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Images & Voices of Hope | December 2, 2020

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Pia Infante asks, ‘What is a restorative philanthropy?’

Pia Infante asks, ‘What is a restorative philanthropy?’


By Pia Infante

Pia is the Co-Executive Director of The Whitman Institute. Her previous work as an organizational consultant and coach helped further equity-driven efforts nationwide for fifteen years.



Last month, Pia Infante attended ivoh’s Restorative Narrative Colloquium and Retreat. As a philanthropist, activist and social leader, Infante made many thoughtful contributions to the conversation and led a break out session on race and equity. Shortly after returning from the colloquium, Infante wrote this piece for the Whitman Institute’s blog, in which she adapted ivoh’s guiding questions for philanthropists:


The idea of restorative philanthropy was provoked for me at ivoh’s Restorative Narrative Colloquium last weekend. Restorative Narrative is an approach to storytelling (e.g. journalistic, documentary, etc.) that walks with a place or community over time, usually after a tragedy, to show how rebuilding and restoration are emerging. It contrasts (in both content and process) starkly to episodic, disaster-based storytelling that focuses only on the precise moment of tragedy (a shooting, a flood) then moves quickly on to the next.

I was particularly interested in the questions that were posed to media practitioners:

1. Why am I choosing to tell this story now?

2. Do I know enough about the tragedy/issue that occurred to tell the Restorative Narrative that emerged from it?

3. Do I know enough about this story to tell it authentically?

4. Have I told my sources about my Restorative Narrative approach to this story?

5. How does this Restorative Narrative move the storyline from “what happened” to “what’s possible”?

6. Have I acknowledged the “messy middle”?

7. How am I defining “resilience” in this story?

8. Am I trying too hard to fit this story into the Restorative Narrative framework?

9. Do I have the support I need from my manager/editor?

10. How am I feeling and reacting while reporting and telling this story?

11. Have I been transparent about how telling this story could affect the people and communities involved?

It struck me that these questions could be shifted slightly for a funder/donor audience, to explore how restorative (vs. extractive or episodic) this investment might be. I re-imagine them as follows:

Why am I choosing to invest in this effort now?

Why us? Why now? Given the point of power in choice, it is vital to make transparent to us and partners what our intentions are.

Do I know enough about the issue/community to make an investment that is restorative rather than extractive?

Philanthropy is often accused of being flashy trend followers, making sweeping shifts in focus and funding from year to year. Restorative support most certainly involves multi-year funding, support to build leader and organizational capacity, not “extracting” precious time for overly bureaucratic processes, and commitment to partner in a spirit of “we’re in this together.”

Do I know enough about this to invest authentically?

Not that we have to become “experts” in an issue, but it may help to get a strong sense of the landscape when we enter into new funding territory. Listening tours, and asking the leaders and funders who have been in the issue or region for much longer can be profoundly shape our thinking.

Have I engaged grantee/investee partners in my “restorative” approach to giving?

Speaking of what shapes our thinking, how am I engaging my grantee/investee partners in this process? Am I taking in their direct and sometimes indirect feedback about how to support this work, place, and people? Are they willing and interested in being the other half of my restorative approach? Are they true partners rather than subjects?

How does my investment move the focus from “what’s wrong” to “what’s possible”?

I’m reminded here of donation efforts that lead with pictures of “starving African children” while others lift up the creative, brilliant solutions being led by leaders like Africans in the Diaspora.  Ultimately, it is the solidarity vs. charity approach being invoked here.

Have I acknowledged the “messy middle”?

This is by far my favorite question. The messy middle concept is a deep nod to “1 + 1 does not always = 2” in long term change work. The messy middle acknowledges that change takes time, that humans are complex, that change cannot be rushed, and to get through this we need relationships of trust and transparency.

In facilitator-speak, Sam Kaner called the messy middle of a dialogic process the “groan zone.” It’s that stretch in a group process between a divergent and convergent zone, where we’re past the point of no return and the group must land together in a new decision or approach. It’s often tiring and frustrating, but if the group can make into a convergent zone, oh the places we can go!



The ‘Diamond of Consensus’ from Sam Kaner’s “Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making.”


Read the whole story here.


Editor’s note: Excerpt republished with permission from Pia Infante. Also, The Whitman Institute is one of ivoh’s funders.

Related: Guiding questions for media practitioners wanting to pursue Restorative Narratives | 10 tips for media practitioners covering tragedies & Restorative Narratives | How Ideal Impact is bridging the gap between journalism & social good